Tag Archives: Maree Clarke

Maree Clarke Culture Worker

Maree Clarke has been an important culture worker in Melbourne for decades. She is from the Mutti Mutti, Yorta Yorta Wamba Wamba and Boon Wurrung. I’ve been looking for the right word to describe what Clarke does and I think that ‘culture worker’ says it all.

Maree Clarke, Ancestral Memory

Some people might think that ‘culture worker’ sounds clinical and neutral, without the romance that the word ‘art’ brings with it. Culture is a broader word, a wider set that includes art and a lot more. It doesn’t restrict, as a narrow definition of ‘art’ would, what kind of objects or actions should be included.

Clarke calls herself a cultural ‘revivifier’. Working to resuscitate and revive a culture is a heroic effort given that it had been on the brink of cultural genocide. Bring a culture back to life is not a terminal goal, it is an act of cultivation and growth as Clarke reclaims, re-thinks, re-imagines and re-interprets this culture.

I first encountered her work in public art in the city and Footscray (she was one of the artists in both Scar by the Yarra and Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom in Footscray). More recently I saw Clarke’s “Ancestral Memory” exhibition at University of Melbourne Old Quad.

In this exhibition Clarke explores the waterways of the Kulin Nation. The exhibition directly referencing the waterways of the university and the eels that still traverse them; next to the quad used to be a small lake and a creek. It is a contrast the sandstone 1856 building in its gothic revival style with cloisters around the quadrangle to create the impression of medieval England.

Two sets of elements hang over a large circular mirror each with their wall of interpretive information; evidence of ownership of land and a welcome to country. There is a huge glass sculpture in the form of a segmented eel trap at one end. At the other woven eel traps and necklaces of feathers and river reeds. The materials for the necklaces are local; the feathers from road kill and the reeds from the Maribanong river. The eel traps represent the aquaculture and ownership of the Kulin Nation, necklaces a welcome to country and the mirrors the reflective still water.

In 2018 I saw a lot of necklaces by her but I still don’t think of Clarke as a jeweller. I saw her necklaces at Craft Galleries, at Deakin Uni Campus in Docklands, and a whole display of her work in “Blak Design Matters” exhibition at the Koorie Heritage Trust. These long powerful necklaces that would be worth paying attention to for their cultural significance alone. Clarke has been studying the necklaces in the Melbourne Museum’s collection and creating her own versions. Thung-ung Coorang (Kangaroo teeth necklace) in 3D-printed form. (For more on Clarke see The Design Files.)

The scale of the eel traps and the length necklaces in “Ancestral Memory” is both an aspect of contemporary art and acts to emphasise the continued presence of Indigenous people.

Although “Ancestral Memory” is curated and created by Clarke it is acknowledged that it is a work in collaboration with cultural advisor Jefa Greenaway, several weavers and numerous glass workers. Culture work is always a group project.


Elemental Forces in Public Art

Considering the use of the so-called ‘elemental forces’ of water, fire, earth and air in public art; with examples from Melbourne’s public and street art.

Air 

Although it is the space between, air is the most under used element in public art. Aside from making flags and banners flutter it is used in a couple of sculptures. The 15-metre-high wind-powered sculpture by Duncan Stemler, Blowhole in the Docklands. Elsewhere in the world there are musical sculptures that are played automatically, like Aeolian harps and the common wind chime. On a more subtle level there is scent of gardens, of incense and the burnt eucalyptus leaves of smoking ceremonies carried in the air.

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole

Water

Water was the first one to be used for public art with public drinking fountains and other water features from artificial lakes and waterfalls. There are many fountains and drinking fountains in Melbourne there are also mist sprays on the rocks in Footscray, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Street artist have also used water, one summer blocks of coloured ice were left to melt in Hosier Lane, the coloured liquid running between the bluestone cobbles. The street artist, CDH used hypochromatic ink for stencil works where the piece that only became visible when wet. Finally there is the unofficial colouring of fountains and moats often in conjunction with protests.

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom

Fire

From the eternal flame at the Shrine of Remembrance, candle light vigils, to Indigenous smoke ceremonies fire is used in a variety of public art. Camp fire with Aboriginal story teller at Federation Square. It is not all sacred; there are profane gas flares at the casino and temporary public art events like, fireworks displays. Fortunately there is little use of fire in street art, aside from a rare CDH pyrotechnic painting.

Immolating portrait of Yukio Mishima by CDH (photo courtesy CDH)

Earth

Earth art is the principle form of public art. From its landscaped gardens, the city is an artificial constructed landscape, complete with kitsch floral clocks. The metal and stone used in sculpture is also from the earth but that might be labouring the point. Street art also use earth and plants in guerrilla gardening.

Melbourne’s Floral Clock

Public Sculpture @ Footscray

Working on my book on Melbourne’s public sculpture has given me an excellent excuse to explore Melbourne. In Footscray I wanted to see and photograph two public sculptures. Adding to my desire of explore the city was watching The Secret History Of Our Streets an excellent BBC Two production that introduced me to the work of Charles Booth (1840-1916), a pioneer sociologist mapping the streets of London. (There is an online archive of Charles Booth’s work.)

In the busy commercial centre of Footscray at the intersection of Nicholson and Hopkins Streets in the pedestrian mall. There was a gentle mist rising around the rocks of Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom. The fine spray of water at the base of the rocks is intended to represent the smoke in aboriginal ceremonies. The series of rocks helps define the intersection, adds to the pedestrian area and the rocks connects the place to earth.

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom, detail

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom, detail

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom, detail

The sculpture is very recent but people are taking to it; it was hard to get a photograph without someone’s child or dog getting in the way.

Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom is a sculpture by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Vicky Couzins is from the Western Districts of Victoria and is a descendant of the Gunditjmara and Kirrae Whurrong clans and she was one of the trio of artists that created with Birrarung Wilam at Birrarung Marr. Maree Clarke is from the Mutti Mutti, Wemba Wemba and Yorta Yorta; she was one of the many indigenous artists involved with Scar – A Stolen Vision in Enterprise Park along the Yarra. (For more about Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom.)

Looking for Bruce Armstrong sculpture, Two People Hugging I found myself in a well designed neighbourhood of mostly public housing. The traffic of busy Moore St was gone; the pavement changed to pavers rather than concrete and even the sound of my footsteps changed. There were several small squares (sunburnt from the recent heatwave – I hope the trees grow in) in the area and public seating.

Bruce Armstrong, Two Persons Hugging

Bruce Armstrong, Two Persons Hugging

Two Persons Hugging located in a square midway down Vipont Street, a quiet street; you wouldn’t know that it was there unless you were a local. This square at the start of a series of stepped parks and playgrounds that lead down to the parklands along the Maribyrnong River.

Two Persons Hugging is an early work by Armstrong; I haven’t been able to find an exact date. The monumental carved wood is solid and the two persons are inseparable and awesome. The wide plinth at the base of the sculpture adds to the seating options in the square.

Bruce Armstrong was born in Melbourne in 1957 and after he graduated from RMIT in 1981 his sculptures are influenced by many mythologies creating archetypal beasts. Along with being represented in major art galleries and international collections Armstrong has public sculptures in several other Melbourne’s suburbs including Moonee Valley, Ascot Vale and Chadstone Shopping Centre.

The position of both of these sculptures, in their different parts of the suburb makes them landmarks for that small area, defining the way that people see, move and talk about the place. These two sculptures might only get a small mention in my book amongst the other work their sculptors have done but I’m glad that I took the time to see them and how they work with their locations.

The centre of Melbourne’s art scene will continue to move slowly counter clockwise around the centre of the city towards the western suburbs. It had already moved through St. Kilda and Prahran by the 1970s and was moving up to Fitzroy by the 1980s. Look out Footscray.


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